Monday, 19 October 2009

Sex, guns and inspiration

One of the great joys of writing thrillers is the astonishing generosity with which people share their time and expertise. Over the past few years of writing the Carver novels, I've asked pilots to tell me how to sabotage their own planes and helicopters. I've had professors tell me how to make an atomic bomb. An ex-Marine who now runs a Nordic ski centre enabled me to send Carver off to the frozen wastes of Northern Norway without ever leaving the comfort of my cozy study. The enthusiasm with which people contribute ideas and information never ceases to amaze and delight me.

Last Friday it happened again. I'd had an idea for a scene in the next book in which Carver goes shooting on an English country estate. I have never done this. I have not even fired a shotgun in my life. I was chatting about the scene, and my technical shortcomings in writing it, to my landlord Jamie Allday, from whom I rent my office-space.

'I know just the chap to help you,' Jamie said, explaining that his cousin was married to a man called Jonathan Irby, who is not only a superb shot but also the General Manager of the West London Shooting School. Founded in 1931, the school is based at what must once have been a rural retreat, right next to Northolt airfield, in the outer suburbs of London. The school offers private tuition at £101 an hour, as well as a series of outdoor ranges which replicate pretty much every form of game shooting you're ever likely to encounter in Britain. Needless to say it's incredibly popular with the corporate-event crowd: makes a change from all the lapdancing clubs.

Anyway, I explained my idea for the scene to Jonathan Irby. My aim was to describe a very traditional, upper-class and (supposedly) civilized event in such a way that it became as exciting and tension-filled as one of Carver's usual violent action sequences ... with a strong dash of sex added to the mix as well.

Jonathan totally got what I was after. For starters, he explained all the basic technicalities: the different types of guns involved; the various targets; the significance of terrain and weather conditions, etc. But as well as that, he came up with specific incidents, likely to happen on a shoot, that would increase tension, or reveal aspects of people's character and state-of-mind. So he was just as inspirational in terms of the actual narrative as he was with all the backdrop to it.

After a fascinating morning, which was a pleasure in itself, I came away buzzing with ideas for the sequence. I could see exactly how it would play out over several thousand words. In fact, I can't wait to stop writing this post and get on with my new scene.

The times when the well seems to have run dry for a writer are utterly miserable. But day like Friday remind me why it is that, despite all it many drawbacks, I do still love this job.


  1. Like you, I've been thrilled with how helpful people are - from market managers, police, doctors, firemen, hotel staff - wherever I've gone I've found people are always happy to chat about their work and have been as helpful as possible.
    (And if you read this comment closely, you might find a few clues about my next book, ROAD CLOSED.)

  2. Putting in plenty of information is one of the things that makes thrillers fun to read. The trick, of course, is getting it right, since most of us are fairly sedentary creatures who spend most of our time sitting in front of our computers.